Thursday, March 17, 2011

Another Level: The Onyx Cup Series

Another Level: The Onyx Cup SeriesBack in January -- particularly right about the time that $250,000 buy-in event was added to the schedule over at the Aussie Millions -- there was a lot of talk both about the significance and value of these “super high roller” events.

Coming on the heels of $100K events both in Melbourne as well as at the PCA in the Bahamas, some wondered if perhaps a new tourney trend was in the works. The events also brought renewed attention to that “All-Time Money List” kept by the Hendon Mob, even encouraging the creation of some alternate lists such as one excluding events with more than a $50,000 buy-in.

Regarding the non-adjusted list, I recall some criticism at the time that the richest players could simply get together and organize their own, huge buy-in tourneys in which they mostly played one another, exchanging moneys back and forth while catapulting up the list (which in all its forms still doesn’t subtract buy-ins from a player’s winnings).

The announcement this week by Full Tilt Poker of its new “Onyx Cup Series” of high buy-in tournaments reminded me in particular of that latter observation. The series, which begins in mid-May, will consist of five events with buy-ins ranging from $100,000 to $300,000, with a “Grand Finale” happening in December. Participating players who do well in the first five events will accumulate points with the top finishers winning spots in the Finale (a $250K event). For that Finale, Full Tilt will also be adding an extra $1 million to the prize pool as well as awarding a “luxury sports car” to the winner.

Other items of note related to the tournament series: it is estimated that the total prize pools for all six events will exceed $30 million; during play a 30-second “shot clock” will be used limiting the length of time players have to make decisions (with players each given a few “time chips” per tourney to buy extra time if needed); and the events “will be filmed on a specially commissioned set and will be broadcast on over 40 TV networks around world.”

People were shaking their heads with wonder in late January at the fact that three six-figure buy-in events had already taken place within the first month of the year. Now the whole calendar is filled with them.

It should be noted that the Onyx Cup tourneys are not exclusive (not technically, anyway). Anyone willing to put up the buy-ins can play, and there will be satellites and additional ways for some to win their way in, too. Still, as Full Tilt’s promotional video and presser suggest, these events appear likely primarily to feature fields full of members of Team Full Tilt, a few of those rich businessmen we’ve seen turn up to play, and perhaps some other pros here and there.

The pros who do play will certainly have to make some difficult decisions regarding poker players’ two most precious commodities -- time and money.

Onyx Cup Series scheduleWith regard to time, there has already been some murmurs over the fact that the first event, scheduled for May 11-12 in Las Vegas, overlaps with the end of the EPT Grand Final in Madrid, Spain (May 7-12). The Five-Star World Poker Classic will be happening at the Bellagio then, too, with the $25K World Championship starting just after on May 14. The first Onyx event also just happens to come during PokerStars’ Spring Championship of Online Poker, perhaps a less significant conflict.

(One wonders about that Federated Poker League and its events scheduled to take place between August and January and whether the Onyx Cup Series might possibly take players away from those tourneys as well.)

And as far as money goes, F-Train has already pointed out that very few players are properly bankrolled for such a series, necessarily making the events somewhat exclusive, practically speaking.

Check out F-Train’s post for his thoughts about other questions -- for both players and fans -- raised by the new Onyx Cup Series. I’m curious about the series, to be sure, but as I was writing about back in late January I find it “Hard to Relate” to these events much at all.

Couldn’t help but compare this announcement to the one from PokerStars -- coming almost simultaneously -- about the renaming of its $11 buy-in “Sunday 1/4 Million” tournament to “Sunday Storm,” a switch that’ll be commemorated with a $1 million guarantee for the event on Sunday, March 27. Like the big 5th anniversary Sunday Million tourney a couple of weeks ago -- a $215 buy-in event in which nearly 60,000 played -- this one will surely attract a monstrous field. (Whaddya think... perhaps 200,000?) (EDIT [added 3/26/11]: Looks like the 3/27 “Storm” has been capped at 150,000 players.)

I’m not versed in marketing lingo and the precise application of the terms, but the different strategies being demonstrated by the two big online poker sites caused me to think of that distinction between “vertical marketing” (where a company focuses on a specialized segment or niche) and “horizontal marketing” (where a company tries to reach many different customers, or even different industries).

Onyx Cup SeriesPerhaps it’s the differing stakes that is suggesting that metaphor to me as well, with the Full Tilt high rollers way up in the stratosphere playing their elite event while the thousands of small-timers, spread out all over the globe, play in the more humble events like the Sunday Storm or Sunday Million.

Not saying the two sites don’t also employ the other approach, too. Full Tilt certainly has plenty to offer the small-timer (e.g., Mini-FTOPS, the latest edition of which is currently ongoing) and PokerStars provides contexts for the high rollers to strut their stuff, too (e.g., Isildur1’s “SuperStar Showdown” series, for which Daniel Negreanu will be this Sunday’s challenger).

Still, it is hard not to respond more readily to those promotions in which I can participate or at least relate to on some level. That level being way down here.

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Blogger The Shrink said...

I have to wonder if Full Tilt Pros, who will have their buy-ins put up by FT --- If their normal splits will still be in place. I mean if the company put up the dough for half or more of the field, isn't it likely that you are going to want a big cut back on the end? Not that anyone is going to leak the answer.

Howard? Jennifer? Phil? Phil? Mike? Gus? Tom? Patrik? Andy? John? Eric? Erick? Allen?

Maybe the tier two players, who won't get a buy-in will break the silence.

3/17/2011 12:34 PM  

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